Every message I have ever heard preached from Luke 15 concerning the Prodigal Son was just that. It was about the younger son that rebelled against the father, lived a riotous lifestyle, and ultimately saw the end of his sin and returned to the father. However this book, The Prodigal God, gives a point of view that I believe is an equally important message of the parable.
"The Word ‘prodigal’ does not mean ‘wayward’ but, according to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, ‘recklessly spendthrift.’ It means to spend until you have nothing left. This term is therefore as appropriate for describing the father in the story as the younger son. The father’s welcome to the repentant son was literally reckless, because he refused to ‘reckon’ or count his sin against him or demand repayment."
Just as the younger son was "prodigal" with his inheritance and lifestyle, the father was just as "prodigal" with his forgiveness, and grace! "Jesus is showing us the God of Great Expenditure, who is nothing if not prodigal toward us, his children. God’s reckless grace is our greatest hope, a life-changing experience, and the subject of this book." We could stop right there and shout, cry and enjoy the grace of God in our own lives, however many of us would still miss the message Jesus was wanting us to receive.
This parable of Jesus was not just for the "un-churched" but for the life long attenders of church. It is true that the focus of the story is that of the younger brother and his rebellion, Jesus was preaching to sinners; but the elder brother’s response to the younger’s repentance, and the father’s acceptance was a message for the "churched" Pharisees. "Jesus is pleading not so much with immoral outsiders as with moral insiders. He wants to show them their blindness, narrowness, and self-righteousness, and how these things are destroying both their own souls and the lives of the people around them."
While reading this book, there were a several characteristics used to define the elder brother that to my shame were tendencies in my own life. "What are the signs of this lack of assurance? We have already mentioned one sign: Every time something goes wrong in your life or a prayer goes unanswered, you wonder if it’s because you aren’t living right in this or that area. Another sign is that criticism from others doesn’t just hurt your feelings, it devastates you. This is because your sense of God’s love is abstract and has little real power in your life, and you need the approval of others to bolster your sense of value. You will also feel irresolvable guilt. When you do something you know is wrong, your conscience torments you for a long time, even after you repent. Since you can’t be sure you’ve repented deeply enough, you beat yourself up over what you did. But perhaps the clearest symptom of this lack of assurance is a dry prayer life. Though elder brothers may be diligent in prayer, there is no wonder, awe, intimacy, or delight in their conversations with God."
While I am assured and settled in my own salvation, there are times especially in weakness that these elder brother tendencies will arise in my life. The Lord certainly spoke to me concerning criticism and trials I face. Therefore, I must be mindful and diligent in confronting this battle that is within my mind in order to have victory in my personal walk with God. Basically, it is not so much about the boxes we check for God, but rather the relationship we have with Him. He is a loving, gracious Father, and though we don’t deserve His love, He freely gives it. "Nothing, not even abject contrition, merits the favor of God. The Father’s love and acceptance are absolutely free."
The grace of God is not something that we will truly understand entirely, but we can entirely trust it! I am so thankful that the Father loves me in spite of me. The message that I desire and purpose to carry and proclaim is fitting for both younger brothers and elder alike; the message of the gospel! One of my favorite quotes from the book is "If the preaching of our ministers and the practice of our parishioners do not have the same effect on people that Jesus had, then we must not be declaring the same message that Jesus did." I pray that the message I carry, and the lifestyle that I carry will both have the same effect that Christ had. If not, then the problem does not lie in the message but the messenger.
This book gives wonderful incite to an already popular parable. I recommend this book for seekers, new Christians, and well established Christians alike. I hope that it will reveal to you that we have a great God, that He loves us, and that He is gracious beyond our understanding.